The Ocular Surface - Our Window to the World


Research Description

The ocular surface, consisting of the cornea, conjunctiva and the tear film, is critical for our vision.

For us to be able to see clearly, we need a healthy cornea, which is somewhat analogous to your vehicle’s windshield. A strong and clean windshield is necessary to protect us from wind, dirt, rain, bugs, birds, pollen, falling leaves, rocks, etc, that will hurt if we are exposed. With usage, the windshield can get dirty and/or develop scratches, making it harder for us to see through. To keep the windshield clean, we use windshield washer liquid, and the windshield wipers. Similarly, health of the cornea (the windshield) depends on healthy conjunctiva and eyelids (windshield wipers) and a proper tear film (windshield washer liquid).

Courtesy of National Eye Institute

The cornea may become opaque due to a variety of reasons, making it harder for us to see. Dr. Swamynathan is interested in learning how the timely production of different proteins that make up our cornea, conjunctiva and the tear film is regulated during development and what goes wrong in disease conditions that affect the ocular surface. Ocular surface disorders account for bulk of the primary eye care services in the U.S, with dry eye alone affecting about 6 million women and 3 million men with moderate to severe symptoms and an additional 20 to 30 million people with mild symptoms.

Dr. Swamynathan’s research is focused on the role of transcription factors KLF4 and KLF5 in maturation and maintenance of a healthy ocular surface. Proteins called “transcription factors” are capable of controlling the place, time and the amount in which other proteins are produced in our cells. Dr. Swamynathan’s laboratory has discovered that KLF4 and KLF5 are required for proper maturation and maintenance of a healthy cornea, conjunctiva and eyelids.

This laboratory is currently attempting to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying the many functions of KLF4 and KLF5. Successful completion of the ongoing projects in this laboratory is expected to provide new opportunities for diagnosis, prevention and therapy of severe ocular surface disorders such as dry eye and ocular cicatricial pemphigoid.

Goblet cells